ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Lance Lynn earned his 10th victory to tie for the NL lead, Matt Holliday homered and drove in two runs, and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Thursday night.
Yadier Molina batted cleanup for the first time this season and walked twice with a double, raising his NL-leading average to .366. Allen Craig, the regular cleanup man, made his first pinch-hit appearance of the season and had a two-run double off Hector Rondon during a four-run sixth.
The Cardinals took three of four from the Cubs and lead the majors with a 47-26 record heading into a weekend interleague series against the Texas Rangers, the team they beat in the 2011 World Series.
Welington Castillo homered leading off the third for the Cubs, who left the bases loaded in the fifth when slumping Starlin Castro fouled out. They're 20-18 against NL teams outside their division, but just 9-24 against the Central.
Lynn (10-1) allowed a run on three hits in six innings with six strikeouts and has reached double digits in wins before the All-Star break both of his years in the rotation, going 11-4 last year and making the All-Star team. He joined teammate Adam Wainwright and Washington's Jordan Zimmermann for the league lead.
Lynn retired the side in order four times and is 5-1 against the Cubs, the lone loss coming last month at Wrigley Field. He's won nine in a row at Busch Stadium.
Molina was 8 for 13 in the series with a homer and is 11 for 21 overall this season against Chicago with a homer and five RBIs.
Castro was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and is in an 11-for-85 slump that has dropped his average to .232.
Castillo's second homer of the season and first since April 8 briefly tied it at 1 after David Freese's run-scoring groundout off Scott Feldman (6-6) had given the Cardinals the lead. Matt Carpenter scored from second on Holliday's infield hit, a bouncer between third and short that Castro got his glove on but could not contain.
Feldman retired one of the four hitters he faced in the sixth, the lone out coming on center fielder Ryan Sweeney's leaping catch at the wall to rob Matt Adams of a homer two at-bats after Holliday hit his 11th also to straightaway center.
The Cardinals won consecutive games for the first time since June 6-7 after alternating wins and losses for nine games.
Notes: Rookie Tyler Lyons (2-3, 4.65) opposes the Rangers' Derek Holland (5-4, 3.30) Friday night. ... The Cubs' three-game series against the Astros is their lone home action in a stretch of 19 games with Matt Garza (1-1, 4.98) opposing Dallas Keuchel (4-3, 4.23). ... Cardinals starters lead the majors with 41 victories.
The second tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season packed sustained 40-mph (64-kph) winds. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm hit Veracruz just before 11 a.m. EDT. Civil defense workers readied emergency shelters and forecasters warned that heavy rains could trigger potentially deadly flash floods or mudslides.
Between 3 to 5 inches of rain were possible with up to 10 inches in some areas, the hurricane center said. Classes were canceled around the state but flights were operating normally out of the main airport in the city of Veracruz.
At the center, Hurricane Specialist Lixion Avila warned the rains could trigger life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially over mountains.
"There is still going to be a lot rain in the hours ahead," he told AP by telephone.
Early Thursday, blustery winds were already being reported around the Gulf Coast areas closest to the storm's center. Forecasters said tropical storm conditions were already being felt in some areas and that strong winds would continue through Thursday morning.
A tropical storm warning was in effect from Punta El Lagarto to Tuxpan, in Veracruz state.
Veracruz state Civil Protection Secretary Noemi Guzman said 2,000 shelters had been readied in the state with mattresses, blankets, water and canned food. She said the shelters at schools and recreation centers could house up to 306,000 people.
The port of Veracruz was closed to small vessels because of the strong winds, Guzman added.
The storm had formed as a depression off the coast of Belize on Monday and began moving northward, dumping heavy rains on parts of that country and northern Guatemala before entering the Gulf of Mexico off Mexico's Bay of Campeche and strengthening somewhat over warm Gulf waters.
After moving inland Thursday, the storm was expected to weaken throughout the day and then begin breaking apart Friday as it crosses southern Mexico, the hurricane center said.
The offer to exchange U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the Afghan detainees came as an Afghan government spokesman said President Hamid Karzai is now willing to join planned peace talks with the Taliban — provided that the Taliban flag and nameplate are removed from the militant group's newly opened political office in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar. Karzai also wants a formal letter from the United States supporting the Afghan government.
Bergdahl, 27, of Hailey, Idaho, is the only known American soldier held captive from the Afghan war. He disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and is believed held in Pakistan.
In an exclusive telephone interview with The Associated Press from his Doha office, Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail said on Thursday that Bergdahl "is, as far as I know, in good condition."
Col. Tim Marsano with the Idaho National Guard said he has been in touch with Bergdahl's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, of Hailey several times this week. The family isn't giving interviews, but Marsano said Bergdahl's parents do plan to speak at an event honoring the soldier in Hailey on Saturday.
"They're aware that the possibility of a transfer or exchange is on the table and they're encouraged by it," Marsano said.
Suhail did not elaborate on Bergdahl's current whereabouts. Among the five prisoners the Taliban have consistently requested are Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former Taliban governor of Herat, and Mullah Mohammed Fazl, a former top Taliban military commander, both of whom have been held for more than a decade.
Bergdahl's parents earlier this month received a letter from their son through the International Committee of the Red Cross. They did not release details of the letter but renewed their plea for his release. The soldier's captivity has been marked by only sporadic releases of videos and information about his whereabouts.
The prisoner exchange is the first item on the Taliban's agenda before even opening peace talks, said Suhail, who is a top Taliban figure and served as first secretary at the Afghan Embassy in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad before the Taliban government's ouster in 2001.
"First has to be the release of detainees," Suhail said when asked about Bergdahl. "Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was expected in Doha ahead of Saturday's conference on the Syrian civil war. He was not expected to meet with the Taliban although other U.S. officials might in coming days.
On Wednesday in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. had "never confirmed" any specific meeting schedule with Taliban representatives in Doha.
The reconciliation process with the Taliban has been a long and bumpy one that began nearly two years ago when the U.S. opened secret talks that were later scuttled by Karzai when he learned of them.
It was then that the U.S. and Taliban discussed prisoner exchanges and for a brief time it appeared that the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners would be released and sent to Doha to help further the peace process. But Karzai stepped in again and demanded they be returned to Afghanistan over Taliban objections.
Since then, the U.S. has been trying to jumpstart peace talks and the Taliban have made small gestures including an offer to share power. The Taliban have also attended several international conferences and held meetings with representatives of about 30 countries.
If the Taliban hold talks with American delegates in the next few days, they will be the first U.S.-Taliban talks in nearly 1 ½ years.
Prospective peace talks were again thrown into question Wednesday when Karzai became infuriated by the Taliban's move to cast their new office in Doha as a rival embassy.
The Taliban held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday in which they hoisted their flag and a banner with the name they used while in power more than a decade ago: "Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Later, the Taliban replaced the sign to read simply: "Political office of the Taliban."
At the ceremony, the Taliban welcomed dialogue with Washington but said their fighters would not stop fighting. Hours later, the group claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Bagram Air Base outside the Afghan capital, Kabul, that killed four American service members.
Karzai on Wednesday announced his government is out of the peace talks, apparently angered by the way Kabul had been sidelined in the U.S.-Taliban bid for rapprochement.
The Afghan president also suspended negotiations with the United States on a bilateral security agreement that would cover American troops who will remain behind after the final withdrawal of NATO combat troops at the end of 2014.
However, Karzai spokesman Fayeq Wahidi said Thursday that the Afghan president is willing to join peace talks with the Taliban if the U.S. follows through with promises he said were made by Kerry in a phone call.
Wahidi said Kerry promised Karzai that the Taliban flag and a nameplate with their former regime's name would be removed and the U.S. would issue a formal letter supporting the Afghan government and making clear that the Taliban office would not be seen as an embassy or government-in-exile.
Once those commitments are met, Wahidi said, "We would see no problem in entering into talks with the Taliban in Qatar. "
On Thursday, the "Islamic Emirate" nameplate had been removed from the Taliban office. The flagpole inside the compound was apparently shortened and the Taliban flag — dark Quranic script on a white background — was still flying but not visible from the street. Journalists gathered at the office shot images of the flag through the gaps in the walls.
The Taliban have long refused to talk to Karzai's representatives but the opening of the office was seen as a first step toward those meetings.
Suhail said the Taliban are insistent that they want their first interlocutors to be the United States. "First we talk to the Americans about those issues concerning the Americans and us (because) for those issues implementation is only in the hands of the Americans," he said.
"We want foreign troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan," he added. "If there are troops in Afghanistan then there will be a continuation of the war."
Suhail indicated the Taliban could approve of American trainers and advisers for the Afghan troops, saying that "of course, there is cooperation between countries in other things. We need that cooperation."
He said that once the Taliban concluded talks with the United States, they would participate in all-inclusive Afghan talks.
Suhail ruled out exclusive talks with Karzai's High Peace Council, which has been a condition of the Afghan president, who previously said he wanted talks in Doha to be restricted to his representatives and the Taliban. Instead, the Taliban would talk to all Afghan groups, Suhail said.
"After we finish the phase of talking to the Americans, then we would start the internal phase ... that would include all Afghans," he said. "Having all groups involved will guarantee peace and stability."
____ Gannon reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. Associated Press writers Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, and Brian Murphy in Dubai contributed to this report.
____ Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be reached at www.twitter.com/kathygannon